Today Netflix released a brand new Carmen Sandiego cartoon.
As a kid, I loved Carmen Sandiego in every form of media that I encountered:
MS DOS games
The new show has completely reimagined the character. They have transformed her from a cunning villain into what looks like something of an anti-hero.
I have no respect for any “Why did they change it? My childhood is ruined!” nonsense. This is for kids, not people in their 30s. I’m just happy that the character is back and hope that they continue to teach geography and history through amusing crime adventures.
Playing The Old Games
That being said, I was also really excited to find that the Internet Archive has a library of browser-based emulators that allow people to play all sorts of ancient video games for free.
It was a fun stroll down memory lane.
This archive includes a ton of Carmen Sandiego titles.
If that morning weren’t crazy enough, a few hours after his tv appearance, a radio producer from the BBC 5 Live emailed us. So David left the sound studio (minus the camera) set up on our table, waiting for me to take it over that evening.
Then it was my turn:
The radio host from the BBC 5 Live asked many of the same questions as the host from EURONEWS NOW… but with a different tone.
David and I have more experience with radio than with tv. That said, this was my first live recording experience, which was intense, especially in the wake of a tragedy. It was a lot of pressure knowing that whatever I said would inform someone’s opinion of escape rooms.
It might not have been a lot of people’s opinions… it was live at 1:30am for the folks listening. But then again, the folks listening in the wee hours are probably really listening, right?
Yesterday was a whirlwind… and this is an unusual and personal post.
I appeared on a live broadcast of EURONEWS NOW… my first foray into live television.
Thank you Patrik Patyo Strausz for recording the appearance. (My parents really appreciate it.)
A few hours later, Lisa appeared on a live BBC 5 radio interview. (We’ll post this if we can get a link at some point.)
Sadly both segments were about the tragedy in Poland. We did our best to represent the community and underscore that most escape rooms are operating safely.
That was one of the most intense experiences that I can recall. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug.
We woke up to an email from a producer in Europe. Within a couple hours of responding, I was doing a sound and video check. An hour later I was on TV.
I hadn’t been pre-interviewed or prepared in any way. I knew that we were going to be discussing the tragedy in Poland, but I didn’t know anything beyond that. I prepared for every possible question or angle that I could think of.
I sat there on Skype watching the first half of the broadcast: segments on the Brexit deal struggles and the hacking of top German officials. Then after a commercial break, a producer that I never saw told me that I’d be on next.
It all started and ended in a blur. There was so much to keep in mind. My voice. My posture. My eyes. The questions. The facts.
I’m honored that I was asked to appear, but I hope that there’s never another crisis like this. I’d do it again, but this isn’t what escape rooms are about. I’m much happier telling people about amazing games.
Updated 12:51pm Eastern: Additional information has been added. Updated 12:05pm Eastern: All suspicions previously published, confirmed.
Heartbroken and infuriated best sums up my mindset as I write this piece.
I can confirm the following information:
There was a fire and an explosion in an escape room in Koszalin, Poland on January 4, 2019.
Two reliable sources have confirmed that this tragedy occurred at the To Nie Pokój escape room.
Five 15-year-old girls were killed from smoke inhalation while celebrating a birthday.
A 26-year-old gamemaster was seriously injured. It has been reported that he tried to help the girls in the room.
The fire broke out in the lobby as a result of an unsealed gas cylinder. The girls were locked in a room with no emergency exit.
Polish authorities have instructed the chief commander of the State Fire Brigade to conduct inspections of all escape room facilities. Many companies have received inspections today.
In absence of clear escape room safety standards, fire inspectors are applying arbitrary safety standards to the escape rooms that they are inspecting. From region to region, inspectors are focusing on different problems, some more significant than others.
A result of the uneven inspections is that in some instances, good escape room companies are being denied the right to operate, while some bad companies are being given clearance.
Many companies in Poland are experiencing cancellations or calls asking questions about safety from their customers who had booked games prior to the fire.
This story has made international news.
The thought of 5 girls entering an escape room to celebrate a birthday and never leaving breaks my heart and enrages me.
For years we have been writing about safety in escape rooms. Lisa and I have appeared on stage at conferences in four different countries (one of them being Poland) and spoken of the need for all escape room companies to make fire safety a top priority. While a great many escape room businesses abide by fire codes and think through their safety protocol, not all of them do, especially the bottom tier of the industry.
One additional thought: any escape room operator who isn’t interested in fire safety should close their doors for good.
Based on what I am hearing, I suspect that the owners of the escape room company in question will be charged with criminal negligence.
Effects on Poland
This may be a meteor strike to the Polish escape room market. We won’t know the effects for some time.
I suspect that many companies in Poland will not survive the coming months because they will not be able to meet safety standards.
I think that the Polish player base has shrunk dramatically and permanently as a consequence of this tragedy.
In addition to questions about what kind of standards will emerge in Poland, these questions remain: how much damage has been done to the player base? Will this strangle additional Polish escape room companies that do meet safety standards?
This is in the press (CNN,Polish news website in translation). We don’t know how far it will go or which countries will internalize this news. I suspect that the answer is “many” and rightfully so.
I assume that fire inspectors everywhere will be aware of this incident, and will tighten the reins on escape room companies within their jurisdictions. Fire safety should be paramount.
I suspect that some countries will pass legislation regulating escape rooms or, more likely, loop escape rooms into already existing amusement legislation. This will force all companies to take safety issues more seriously, and probably force many out of business.
I hope that this tragedy does not stain the entire industry. There are many people who already had an inherent fear of the concept of an escape room. For those who seek validation, this tragedy will serve to confirm those fears.
In our experience, the overwhelming majority of escape rooms do not lock players in. This fact has not been adequately conveyed by the news pieces that I have read covering this story, all of which included passages akin to the BBC’s, “Escape rooms, in which participants are locked in a room and must solve a series of puzzles in order to get out, are popular around the world.” This will undoubtedly instill additional fear in readers.
A Change for Room Escape Artist
Starting this year, our reviews will call out whether or not the company locks players in without an easily accessed emergency exit. We’ve frequently discussed it, but this will become a permanent fixture in our reviews moving forward.
We are not in a position to judge compliance with fire safety laws or guidelines, but we can do more to shine a light on companies that are obviously failing in their duties to their players.
A Change For Escape Room Owners
We love escape rooms. We love this industry. It’s time for every escape room operator to decide that they want to contribute to a safe escape room market. Or get the hell out.
There is an escape room creator who just spent their first night trying to sleep with the lives of 5 girls weighing on their conscience.
There are 5 girls whose parents just spent their first night looking at empty beds.
This shouldn’t have happened and it should never happen again.
We throttled down our playing a little bit (255 in 2017) and put an emphasis on hunting down amazing and unusual games in the markets that we visited. As a result of that decision, we have a diverse pool of Golden Lock-In winners that broadly span styles, budgets, and geography.
There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again.
There were plenty of other amazing escape rooms, but we can’t honor them all. In the end these 13 rose to the top.
We only considered games that we both played in 2018.
We both had to agree to award the room the Golden Lock-In.
We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could appear on the list.
A company could only win once for the year.
2018 Golden Lock-In Winners
Listed chronologically in the order we played them.
With its intimate setting, great puzzle flow, and hidden surprises, Murfreesboro Escape Rooms designed a remarkably tight and balanced adventure game. The Blind Pig was a traditional escape room where everything gelled.
What began as a traditional cabin escape room became so much more as Sasquatch’s narrative hiked to a magical finale. Escape the Netherworld told an unusual story that was intense, exciting, and unexpectedly charming.
In the depths of a church, we unearthed Logic Locks’ theatrical story of crypts and demons. As the puzzles built tension and the scenes became more dire, win or lose, Catacombs careened towards a commanding conclusion.
Intimidating yet funny, The Experiment made us feel like we were truly escaping, more so than in any other game in our memory. The Great Escape designed around character building, both theirs and our own, which added depth to the experience.
[At the time of this review, DarkPark was called Escape Challenge.]
Escape Challenge builds games that feel alive, haunted, and out to get you. Honeymoon Hotel transformed from mundane to insane as it pushed us through an exquisitely detailed reimagining of the H.H. Holmes “murder castle” story.
With towering ceiling and wet depths, Cutthroat Cavern was breathtaking. For 60 minutes we frolicked in our own Goonies adventure. The scale of this escape room is unrivaled. 13th Gate Escape’s latest creation is in a class of its own.
Who would have guessed that returning to the classroom would be as joyful as it was at The Escape Game? With a playful premise, whimsical setting, and well-rounded gameplay, Playground had us frolicking through school.
The invisible adaptive intelligence within The Edison Escape Room floored us. Palace Games took ambitious design to another level by hybridizing escape rooms and video games into something beautiful and new.
As we ventured through Lab Rat’s whimsical yet imposing world, we journeyed through a story. Hatch Escapes put narrative in the driver’s seat with gameplay that supported it… humorously, intensely, and ridiculously.
Story-driven and puzzle-focused, expansive and intimate, challenging and fair, Stash House achieved a balance that few escape rooms deliver. Through these oppositions, we were immersed within its imaginative and cohesive world.
In the vast expanses and the tight nooks of The Grand Parlor, we played a challenging puzzle game with a beautiful set that continually surprised us. Plus we met 13th Hour Escape Rooms’ delightfully rambunctious actors (who only roam when the haunt is operating).
Marvelously eccentric, The Observatory taught us how to unravel its mysteries through the act of playing. The Gate Escape crafted a fair and challenging game for experienced escape room players, with great interactions to boot.
Congratulations to the 2018 Golden Lock-In Winners!
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As we approach our 700th escape game and 4th Golden Lock-In Awards (to be announced live tomorrow), we’ve been looking over the list of games that people keep recommending to us, but we haven’t had the opportunity to play.
We cannot yet review or elect to honor these games, but we want to call out some of the recurring recommendations that we receive.
New Games, Familiar Companies:
These include some games that have been running for quite some time and others whose opening we eagerly await:
We keep detailed notes, but we’re definitely forgetting some…
Then there are the companies that we haven’t ever visited, but we’ve heard a lot about and they’ve caught our attention.
Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space, Urbana, IL
Edge of Escape, Zion, IL
Enchambered, Sacramento, CA
Enter The Imaginarium, Pittsburgh, PA
Enter/Locked, Jackson, Mississippi (specifically The Temple)
Escaparium, Montreal, Canada
Locked In Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
Kamer 237, Volkel, Netherlands
Nick of Time Escapes, Swain, NY (We tried to fit them in on our last western New York trip, but couldn’t make the logistics work.)
Ravenchase Adventures, Richmond, VA
Skurrilum, Hamburg, Germany
The Chamber, Prague, Czech Republic
The Sanctuary, Oklahoma City, OK
Xscapes, Binghamton, NY (I want to play their licensed Twilight Zone room!)
And also a more general escape room travel wish list:
We know that this list isn’t comprehensive. And for as much as we play, we realize we won’t be able to visit most of these places in 2019. The point is, however, that there is a ton of wonderful creation happening in this industry. It comes in all shapes, sizes, budgets, and styles… and all over the world.
If you try these out or find other gems we might not know about, please report back.
See you tomorrow for the live broadcast of the 2018 Golden Lock-In announcements.